Greening Indian Cities

Another creative commitment to Green Innovation. Thanks to the Times of India for this story about how Ahmedabad embraces green walls, goes vertical:

Aapnu Amdavad has a lot to boast about. From being the first city to have been declared India’s first Unesco World Heritage City to being home to some prime educational institutes, this city has gained prominence on the global map. Having said that, the city has its share of dark spots too. The fast diminishing green cover in the city is one of them. India’s fifth largest city has a tree cover of approximately 35 crores (as per a 2017 census), which although is 13% more than the number of trees in 2013, is still not enough. The ongoing metro project has also led to a lot of felling of trees. Taking into consideration all this, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has decided to build vertical gardens in the city. It recently set up a small vertical garden along one of the pillars at the flyover at Helmet crossroads.

What are vertical gardens? Essentially vertical gardens are the kind of gardens that grow vertically, along walls or pillars, with the help of trellis (which are wooden frames) or similar support systems. Continue reading

Eye of the Beholder

The Berlin-based florist Ruby Barber of Mary Lennox created some of her signature cloud arrangements with once-neglected weeds. A composite of individual arrangements, from left, of weeping amaranth and fresh and dried wild grasses; an abundant gathering of the once-humble smoke bush, now a fashionable challenger to traditional hothouse flowers; and Queen Anne’s lace. Credit Photograph by Guido Castagnoli. Flowers styled by Mary Lennox

Ralph Waldo Emerson may have written that a weed is just “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,”  but another way of stating it is that a weed “is a plant growing in the wrong place”. The current revalorization of the “common weed”– aesthetically, culinarily and nutritionally — dovetails beautifully with much of what we highlight on this site.  Thanks to Ligaya Mishan of the NYTimes for the refocus.

How the Common Weed Has Grown on Florists (and Chefs)

From the flower arrangement to the plate, this is the era of the formerly unwanted plant.

A WEED IS UNWANTED: That is its definition. It is a plant that we have deemed to have no value because it contributes nothing to our life, neither nourishment nor beauty. Why should it help us when it doesn’t need us to survive, its seeds borne on the idlest gust, taking root and thriving in even the cruelest terrain? It stands wholly apart from human civilization, hardy and self-sustaining, mocking our hegemony, claiming the earth as its own. Worse, it is a predator, stealing resources — real estate, sunlight — from the plants we do value and rely on, crowding them out, threatening their existence and, by extension, ours.

A weed is never singular but an army. Its legions sweep across land like the Golden Horde, “always three steps ahead of the gardener, traveling underground, seeding by the million, smothering all in their path,” says the British writer and landscape designer Isabel Bannerman. Her husband and partner, Julian Bannerman, frames it slightly less savagely: The garden “is a bit like having a party. What we call weeds are the uninvited guests.” And in the Swedish writer and illustrator Elsa Beskow’s picture book “The Flowers’ Festival,” originally published in 1914 as “Blomsterfesten i Tappan,” they appear as exactly that, a rabble of thistles, chickweed, nettles and burdock, “scoundrels and beggars and ragamuffins” all, consigned to a ditch outside the garden to glower while the violets and orchids revel. “But we’re flowers, too,” the weeds roar.

But their time has come. Continue reading

Regenerating Biodiversity Is Hard Work In The Best Of Circumstances

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Jon Asgeir Jonsson, who works for a private forestry association, with larch saplings in western Iceland.

It’s never easy being green, but especially millennia after deforestation. Thanks to Henry Fountain and the New York Times:

Vikings Razed the Forests. Can Iceland Regrow Them?

GUNNARSHOLT, Iceland — With his flats of saplings and a red planting tool, Jon Asgeir Jonsson is a foot soldier in the fight to reforest Iceland, working to bring new life to largely barren landscapes.

The country lost most of its trees more than a thousand years ago, when Viking settlers took their axes to the forests that covered one-quarter of the countryside. Now Icelanders would like to get some of those forests back, to improve and stabilize the country’s harsh soils, help agriculture and fight climate change. Continue reading

James Prosek, Come to Chan Chich Lodge!

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A Sami reindeer herders’ hut on Lake Virihaure in Padjelanta National Park. Credit Paintings by James Prosek, courtesy of the artist and Schwartz-Wajahat, New York

We had a tradition from the moment we arrived in Kerala, inviting some of our favorite people to come see what we were doing there. This one’s work at Cornell was a lovely coincidence because of Seth’s work at the Lab of Ornithology. But mainly, a conservation-oriented naturalist illustrator seemed a perfect fit for what we do. So, seeing what he has contributed to the Travel section of the New York Times today I realize we are due to extend another invitation, this time for him to join us at Chan Chich Lodge in Belize:

A Botanist in Swedish Lapland

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The plan was to retrace part of a journey that Carl Linnaeus made in 1732 when he was 25, from Uppsala, just north of Stockholm, to the northernmost region of Sweden, known as Swedish Lapland. Linnaeus kept a detailed journal of his travels, often called his “Lapland Journal,” with maps of the mountains, rivers and lakes, drawings and his squiggly handwriting. Continue reading

Foraging Classes

HornFarmCenterLogoStacked-72-540x540WhiteBGA mushroom dropped in on my life, in an unexpected manner, and now I find myself wandering to unexpected places, such as rural Pennsylvania. I am sharing here mainly as a record of how I have come across the resources that inform how we approach bringing foraging to Chan Chich Lodge.

So, bravo and thanks to our friends at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education, which is my latest find in these wanderings. I particularly like their clearly laid out information on the educational resources they offer, most notably this section on foraging classes: Continue reading

Plant, Coffee Table Baiting

9780714871486-940-ahsPhotos by Penn, Steichen and other classic masters share the pages with some of today’s greatest photographers in this book. It brings our attention to flora in both natural and still-life settings, making this kind of debate irrelevant.

Floral arranging, an art form, can be seen as baiting, in a way. We are mindful of the fact that most of the world increasingly lives in urban settings. While our job is to provide access to the wonders of wild nature, there is a vital role for plants in the daily lives of urbanites to remind them to get back to nature from time to time. If this book provides coffee tables daily reminders of that imperative, we are all for baiting.

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Single Oriental Poppy (C), 1968 by Irving Penn. From Plant: Exploring the Botanical World

Plant wins American Horticultural Society Book Award!

Plant is ‘an art exhibit in book form’ says one of the judges – and who are we to disagree? Continue reading

Tagimoucia, A Glimpse Of Heaven

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Tagimoucia has attained a kind of celebrity status because of its beauty and rarity. Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

For Fijians, this flower is viewed rarely enough to enhance its sacred status; for the rest of us, a photograph like the one above is like a siren call to come, behold it:

A Rare Pacific Islander Captivates Its Neighborhood

TAVEUNI ISLAND, Fiji — In Fiji, flowers can take on a spiritual, magical significance. They are strung together as garlands for ceremonies and festivals or worn as an ornament behind the ear on any given day.

The South Pacific archipelago is home to about 800 species of plants found nowhere else in the world. But the most special is the tagimoucia, a crimson and white flower that hangs down in clusters like a chain of ruby raindrops. Because of its beauty and rarity, it has attained a kind of celebrity status. Continue reading

Our Attention to Plants (or Lack Thereof)

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Compared to “juicy” pop culture news, nature-lovers and conservationists constantly have to fight for people’s attention on subjects like endangered animals or protected wildlife. However, the struggle for plant devotees to garner people’s interest on green eukaryotes is much more difficult, except maybe for some garden-popular flowers and vegetables, and perhaps a few trees, but otherwise plants go unnoticed.

Conservation efforts are devoted overwhelmingly to animals; compared to the hundreds of plant species easily found but mostly overlooked in our environs. There’s even a formal name for this: plant blindness. And in a study published in the journal Conservation Biology, biologists Kathryn Williams and Mung Balding of Australia’s University of Melbourne ask whether it’s inevitable: Are people hard-wired by evolution to ignore the vegetal world? Can something be done about it?

“We are absolutely dependent on plants for life and health, but so often they fade into the background and miss out in the direct actions we take to protect our planet,” says Williams. “I wonder how the world would look if more people, instead of seeing a wall of green, saw individual plants as potential medicine, a source of food, or a loved part of their community.”

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Addressing and Absorbing Oil Spills

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Water lettuce and aquatic fern are misnomers for the type of task these plants might be used for in the near future. German researchers recently discovered that Salvinia molesta, an aquatic fern, and Pistia stratiotes, a type of water lettuce, have a specialized leaf anatomy that not only repels water and traps air, but also traps a lot of oil. The leaves of these plants are covered with tiny, hairlike structures called trichomes that allow the plant to float on the water surface and when dried, absorb more oil than two commercial oil absorbents used for oil spill cleanup, Duerex Pure and Öl-Ex.

[The] existing methods of dealing with oil spills all have significant drawbacks. Chemical dispersants and burning can spread toxins around, while environmentally friendly materials like sawdust and wheat straw absorb water in addition to oil, making cleanup messy and inefficient.

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The “Wildman” in You

 

Whether you live in an urban or rural setting, the abundance of edible plants that surround us typically remains unconsumed unless we are referring to the plants that are growing in our own gardens. “Wildman” Steve, NYC’s famed foraging expert, is an avid naturalist who learns about the properties of common plants growing in neighborhoods in order to identify their utility for human consumption, including their medicinal attributes in some cases. He shares his findings through various forums and even has a phone application to offer a practical and user-friendly tool for those who want to get “in the field” and learn.

All of his videos, like the one below, remind us of the plethora of flavorful plant species right in our own backyard or neighborhood park and the following one highlights the joy it can be to do it with someone you love.

Continue reading

Phenology Disrupted by Climate Change in the UK

The UK has a rich history of biological recording by scientists and ‘citizen scientists’ who document the first signs of spring. Photograph: Alamy/Guardian

We first heard of the word phenology on this site back in 2012, from writings on a citizen science workshop in the Galápagos. Since then, the term has been linked to citizen science in the context of forest life cycles in England, coffee farming in Costa Rica, and orchids in the United Kingdom. It’s a good thing that there’s a history of normal people collecting information on nature’s timelines in Britain, because that provides rich and deep data on changing phenology with a warming climate. Jessica Aldred reports for the Guardian on a new study published in Nature:

Climate change is disrupting the seasonal behaviour of Britain’s plants and animals, with rising temperatures having an impact on species at different levels of the food chain, new research shows.

The result could be widespread “desynchronisation” between species and their phenological events – seasonal biological cycles such as breeding and migration – that could affect the functioning of entire ecosystems, according to the large-scale study published this week in the journal Nature.

Continue reading

Desert Gold in Death Valley

The primary threads in the floral carpet are yellow — the most common flower is called Desert Gold, which looks like a yellow daisy. Credit National Park Service

The primary threads in the floral carpet are yellow — the most common flower is called Desert Gold, which looks like a yellow daisy. Credit National Park Service

One of the most evocatively named US National Parks, Death Valley is currently awash in color due to record-breaking autumn rains. The impact of water on one of the driest places on earth is stunning, with carpets of flowers blooming from the latent seeds that remain dormant for years in the dry, crusty soil.

 

 

Find more images in the NYTimes Science feature, and via the National Park Service.

Ticking Clocks Of Botanical Gardens

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Image © KPG_Payless | Shutterstock

Thanks to Conservation for Roberta Kwok’s summary of scientific news we had not quite expected, nor wished for:

A relaxing stroll in a botanic garden sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. These green oases can encourage people to appreciate nature and bring attention to conservation issues. But some botanic gardens might harbor an ecological threat: they could be prime sources for invasive species to spread into the wild. Continue reading

Orchid Expo: Alajuela

One of José Luis’s orchids at Xandari.

From Friday the 24rd of October to Sunday the 26th, Alajuela had their annual orchid exposition, which includes displays and awards as well as a few lectures on growing orchids and a section for sale or auction. As James and I have written before, Xandari has a wonderful collection of this family of flowers in addition to the general gardens thanks to the industrious efforts of our head gardener, José Luis Ballestero. He has a little greenhouse near Xandari’s restaurant with about a hundred plants that are often in varying stages of development, depending on how much time he has to prune them.

The three photos above are examples of some of the orchids on display in Xandari’s common area, like the reception, lobby, and restaurant room. At the expo this weekend, there were dozens of species and hundreds of individual plants, including hybrids, miniature flowers, and some fantastically strange Continue reading

Flowering Plants Of The Western Ghats

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For flower lovers, ecologists, and concerned citizens everywhere, important news in today’s Hindu:

As a global biodiversity hotspot and a world heritage site, the Western Ghats is a magnet for conservationists, nature lovers, scientists and researchers hoping to delve into the secrets of its abundant flora and fauna. But despite decades of study by individuals and groups, an essential reference work cataloguing the rich biodiversity of the region has remained a dream.

In a bid to address this need, scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) at Palode near here have come out with a comprehensive work on the flowering plants of the Western Ghats.

Published in two volumes, the 1,700-page book reveals the occurrence of a total of 7,402 species of flowering plants in the region, out of which 5,588 species are native or indigenous. Of the rest, 376 are exotics naturalised and 1,438 species are cultivated or planted as ornamentals. Continue reading

From the Flora-Files, Part 4

This little gem can be found along the path to the art studio.

And so the flora-files march on (see past posts, starting from the most recent here). Continuing these posts has become a way for me to reflect on the wonderful opportunities I had at Xandari and around Costa Rica to come into contact with a lot of fascinating and beautiful flora and fauna. As I peruse my photo catalogs and look for pictures to post, I feel like I’m back there, even briefly. Continue reading

Roots and Seeds at Xandari

Back in the beginning of July, James and I helped José Luis plant some Bourbon coffee seeds so that they would eventually become seedlings that could be put in bags to grow into saplings. Now, after months of watering and patience, many of the seedlings are finally beginning to emerge. As more and more of them germinate and create their shoots, we’ll be putting them into the bags with soil to wait another year before planting them in the ground at Xandari.

Plenty of other plants have been productive over the last couple months: Continue reading

From the Flora-Files, Part 1

Right of the reception

Although, as I detailed in my last post, my internship at Xandari is over, I still have a great backlog of images that I never had a chance to upload while there. (My computer broke.) I’d like to share the better of those photos with everyone here. I’ve named this post “flora-files” because I think the title sort of punny: “files” in the sense of records on Xandari’s flora; and “file” in the sense of the Greek φίλoς (philos), “love,” the same one that shows up in “Philadelphia” or “audiophile.” Look out for more from the flora-files… I’ll detail where I find these flowers around Xandari in the caption, so that if you’re lucky enough to be here while they’re in bloom, you can go seek them out.

Garden paths

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